Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Red Cross – not just a disaster response body


Australian Red Cross

QUESTIONS might have been asked on what humanitarian organisation has the only network of volunteers throughout the country and is the only organisation dealing with the humanitarian impact of climate change on the people of the Solomon Islands?
The Solomon Islands Red Cross is the organisation.Red Cross may be best known for its rapid response to emergencies, such as the tsunami in April.
But, according to Solomon Islands Red Cross Secretary General Charles Kelly, many may not know that the organisation also plays a role in preparing communities for disaster, spreading awareness of the impacts of climate change, training communities in first aid and delivering health programs that aim to improve health and wellbeing.
However, Mr Kelly said Red Cross needed community support to continue and expand this important work throughout the country.
The Health Awareness Programme, in partnership with the Ministry of Health, was launched in 2005 and has had a positive impact on the North Malaita and Guadalcanal Weather Coast communities, where it is delivered.
The programme, which has been supported by AusAID through Australian Red Cross, aims to provide communities with information to help them improve health and hygiene practices.This can lower the spread of malaria, diarrhoea, skin infections and other diseases. A Red Cross health promotion officer and dedicated Red Cross volunteers recently visit villages such as Kwene and Manakwai in north Malaita, and Vatungoala and Chimba in the Weather Coast, together with a Ministry of Health officer.
The activities are designed to appeal to all members of the village, young and old, men and women.
According to 25-year-old Jenny Maesubua, of Kwene, there is less malaria and diarrhoea in the village since the training was delivered.
“We have learned to clean up the village, dig up the stagnant pools, so malaria has gone down,” she said. “Diarrhoea is also not much experienced in the village now.”
Similarly, in Manakwai, fewer people are getting sick with diarrhoea, dysentery and malaria.Village resident James Delemani said the Health Awareness Programme had especially helped the women, as the women were largely responsible for preparing meals; now they knew what hygienic practices to carry out for better health.
“Our diseases have gone down, and malaria seems to be controlled since the training,” he said.Dr Divi Oga Oga, the Under-Secretary for Health Improvement within the Solomon Islands Ministry of Health, said the major health challenge facing the Solomons was the disease burden.
“We are at the crossroads, where infectious diseases have decreased slightly over the past 10 years, but there has been a rise in lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and some cancers,” he said.
He said lifestyle diseases were caused by the combination of the change of diet from traditional food, to more refined food such as rice and high carbohydrate snacks and less physical activity.
“The ‘old’ diseases are still challenging, of course, there is still malaria and pneumonia. There is meningitis in children, diarrhoea and tuberculosis.”
These are reasons why Red Cross would like to expand the Health Awareness Programme into other, more remote villages in North Malaita and the Weather Coast, said Charles Kelly.Mr Kelly said the programme had also been designed to bring other benefits to the participating villages ñ with communities who had not been getting along, coming together to participate in the training.
Climate change awareness is another priority for the Solomon Islands Red Cross.
“Climate change is already beginning to have an impact here,” Mr Kelly said.
“Villages have noticed rising sea levels, and greater erosion along the shoreline. We’re running climate change awareness programmes in schools in Honiara, but we need to expand it throughout the country.”
The awareness programme covers an understanding of climate change, what impact it may have on the Solomons, and how people can adapt to it.
The Solomon Islands Red Cross is supported by the Red Cross / Red Crescent Centre on Climate Change and Disaster Preparedness.
The Climate Centre was established in 2002 to help National Red Cross Societies design programmes to reduce the risk of disasters and take climate change into account.Solomon Islands Red Cross Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Officer George Baragamu said weather patterns in the Solomon Islands were changing.
“The frequency and the intensity of cyclones is increasing,” he said. “And we are experiencing drought in some areas for the first time, for example, in Temotu.
“This year alone, we’ve seen drier seasons like never before. Yet some areas are experiencing more rainfall!”
He said Red Cross had a good relationship with the National Disaster Management Office and the Met Office.
Red Cross is compiling a handbook, in consultation with the organisations above, addressing climate change and its impacts, and how people can adapt.
Red Cross will incorporate this information into its training for emergency response teams. These teams are Red Cross volunteers who are ready to help their community should a disaster occur.
Red Cross has containers stocked with emergency items, from tarpaulins to cooking kits, in its three branches, Honiara, Auki, and Gizo ñ and is soon to stock a container at the newest branch, in Temotu.
Red Cross has been helping communities faced with disasters for many years.This includes environmental disasters like flooding.In Taba, Northern Malaita, Red Cross assisted the community to build a wall, which now stops the river from flooding their village.
Mr Kelly said it was inspiring to see the entire village, young and old, working together.Red Cross also had supported the villagers at Radefasu in the building of a drainage system to stop their village flooding from rising river and sea levels, and help reduce the risk of malaria.
“There were different tensions between the communities at Radefasu, but they left their differences and came together,” Mr Kelly said. “It made the community stronger.”Radefasu teacher Lilian Ete said the village had greatly benefited from Red Cross first aid training.
“A number of young children had drowned in the ocean, and we didn’t know what to do,” she said.“Now, after the first aid training, we know what to do.”
Mr Kelly said in order for Red Cross to continue and expand its work in the Solomons, community support was needed.
“People have been so generous donating to the recovery work after the tsunami, but we need ongoing support so Red Cross can continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities - preparing them for emergencies and improving their quality of life,” Mr Kelly said.
“Red Cross assures donors that SIRC is accountable and has annual audited accounts. All the money raised is used to support our local humanitarian activities.”

*The writer is from Red Cross Australia who recently visited parts of Malaita and compiled this report.